A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

FOI In-Brief

By Quill

Critics say energy info is missing

The Bush administration turned over thousands of documents in late March related to Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force, including some showing the industry’s attempt to influence the direction of the administration’s energy plan.

But most of the papers, released in response to court orders, were blanked out and provided little substantive information, The Associated Press reported.

Critics then accused the administration of continuing to hold back vital information surrounding the development of President Bush’s energy plan a year ago.

Two federal judges ordered the release of the documents, including numerous copies of e-mails, as part of lawsuits brought by private groups trying to determine who influenced the crafting of the administration’s energy plan. The disclosed papers came about as a result of Freedom of Information lawsuits filed by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

While a few of the papers provided some insight into the activities of interest groups seeking to influence the administration’s internal energy debate prior to the release of the Cheney task force report, Judicial Watch reported that most of the internal communications were heavily redacted in the nearly 5,000 documents the organization received.

Often only the names of the sender and recipient, and a subject heading, were left readable, said Larry Klayman, the group’s chairman. “What we’ve seen so far, the Bush administration is withholding an inordinate amount of documents, suggesting they are obstructing these proceedings,” he said.

The administration also faces a lawsuit by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, which wants to learn the names of people who met with Cheney or his top aides leading up to the energy report’s release. That lawsuit was not involved in the March 25 releases, however.

Historians criticize Bush’s policy

The author of an acclaimed work on President Kennedy is trying to write a book about President Reagan. But at an April forum with two other leading historians, Richard Reeves held up an index of government documents that he has been prohibited from seeing, The Associated Press reported.

“There’s great determination to prevent these papers from ever becoming public,” said Reeves, referring to President Bush’s executive order last fall that tightened access to records of previous administrations.

During the April 11 forum in New York, Reeves, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Robert Caro discussed the possible effects of Bush’s policy, which allows former presidents greater control over the release of documents.

Although legislation passed in 1978 called for the release of most papers 12 years after the end of an administration, Bush’s order gives former presidents more authority to withhold certain records because they contain military, diplomatic or national security secrets, communications among the president and his advisers or legal advice.

“It really undermines and subverts the Presidential Records Act of 1978,” said Schlesinger, a former Kennedy aide and author of Pulitzer Prize-winning books on Kennedy and President Andrew Jackson.

Historians and public interest groups filed a federal lawsuit last year challenging President Bush’s order.

N.Y. Post to get JonBenet files

A federal judge has ordered the district attorney’s office to turn over investigative documents in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case to The New York Post, which is defending a libel suit filed by the Ramsey family.

The materials are under protective order barring their publication and also will be given to the Ramseys, The Associated Press reported.

JonBenet Ramsey, 6, was found strangled in the basement of her family’s Boulder, Colo., home Dec. 26, 1996. Police have not charged anyone in her death.

The order covers any documents from the beginning of the murder investigation to the date of former-District Attorney Alex Hunter’s affidavit regarding the investigation of JonBenet’s brother, Burke Ramsey, now 15, potential charges against him, or any plea negotiations concerning charges against the child.

The newspaper subpoenaed the Burke Ramsey documents, saying they were necessary to its defense in a libel case filed by the Ramseys.

Hunter’s affidavit was used in a lawsuit against a supermarket tabloid that alleged the Ramseys had plea-agreement talks with prosecutors regarding charges against their son. In May 1999, The New York Post essentially republished that story.